The word “controversial” gets misused a lot. For example, if a prominent public figure says something that could be construed as racist, headlines may say that it was a “controversial statement.” Except that it’s only a controversy if you believe that there is a good argument to be made for racism. Racism doesn’t fall under controversy, it falls under hate. The term “controversy” is more appropriate when talking about position battles in sports, though in those cases, you’ll still find plenty of hate; favoring a different player over another can certainly be divisive, and the quarterback controversy for the Dallas Cowboys is as contentious as any in the last couple of decades.
It’s also not often that a team with a QB controversy also might be the best team in the NFL, and in large part with that success due to their starting quarterback.
The Cowboys have a controversy at the position unlike anything we’ve seen only because they’re the ones most intent on sabotaging their own resurgence thanks to a lack of support in their transcendent starter by their own emperor, Jerry Jones. Even though Dak Prescott has taken over 99 percent of the snaps at quarterback and the team is tied for an NFL-best record of 11-2, his job status remains on edge after the New York Giants – the only team he’s lost to in his career at this point – pushed him to his worst start, completing under 50-percent of his pass attempts for the first time, throwing multiple interceptions for the first time, and holding the Cowboys to single digits for the first time this season.
In 10 of Prescott’s other 11 starts, he’s posted a passer rating over 100, and in nine of those games he’s scored at least twice. Regardless of draft position or experience, Prescott has been one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL this season, leading Dallas to the brink of potentially clinching the NFC East and number one seed this weekend despite those two losses to the Giants. And yet all it took was a single hiccup after three of the most impressive months we’ve ever seen from a rookie for Jones to imply that Prescott will be pulled in favor of Tony Romo as soon as he “knows it”:
“I don’t have a definition for it, but you’ll know it when you see it,” Jones said on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas on Tuesday. “It’s kind of like definition I heard one time of another issue trying to define a negative topic, and they said, ‘I don’t know how to say it, but it’s just something that when you see it, you know it’s there.’ We’ll see it.”
There have been times in the last couple years where reporters have asked Bill Belichick if he’ll bench Tom Brady in favor of Jimmy Garoppolo, to which he appropriately responds with comments like “Jesus Christ.” To compare Prescott to Brady on the whole spectrum of their careers would be ludicrous, but to say that Prescott has been productive on the scale of someone like Brady – 25 total touchdowns, four interceptions, passer rating of 102.7 – would be more than fair. Why not treat Prescott with the same level of confidence, especially since the Cowboys are winning more than any other team?
We’ve heard more people call for Prescott to be benched than we have for Brock Osweiler, the Houston Texans quarterback averaging 5.8 yards per attempt (Prescott is at 7.9) with 14 interceptions and a completion percentage under 60. You would be hardpressed to even find another quarterback controversy in the NFL at this point, the only cases being for teams that are awful anyway like the New York Jets, Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars and San Francisco 49ers.
The Dallas Cowboys have four more wins than all of those teams combined and yet they are the ones most unsure about their quarterback.
The last time we saw Romo, he threw three interceptions in a 33-14 loss to the Carolina Panthers. He was pretty much playing behind the same offensive line that is too often credited with Prescott’s success. He had his three elite offensive linemen – Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin – and Dez Bryant and Jason Witten … and he still threw a pick-six on the third play of the game. Before the end of the first half, he would throw another pick-six and then on the very next play after that, a third interception. He threw multiple interceptions in three of his four starts a year ago. Not to disparage Romo, but let’s not pretend like even if he gets into the game he doesn’t have the ability to instantly make Jason Garrett and Jones second-guess their second-guessing of Prescott.
The only notable difference in Dallas this season besides Prescott is the addition of rookie phenom running back Ezekiel Elliott. There should be no controversy around whether or not Elliott is better than 2015 starter Darren McFadden (though McFadden was still quite productive behind the Dallas offensive line a year ago), but in the best case scenario, is Romo doing significantly better than Prescott simply because of a new running back? What are the odds that he’s going to be the Romo who led the NFL in passer rating, yards per attempt, and completion percentage in 2014, and not like the one who was very good but rarely MVP-caliber in the first eight seasons of his career, or the one who threw seven interceptions in four games a year ago?
There’s been more criticism for Dak Prescott this season than there should be and a lot of that centers around things that are outside of his control, like when he was drafted (If Prescott had been the fourth overall pick instead of a fourth round pick, people would be a lot more willing to buy into his success) and the offensive line he is playing behind – though on Thursday, ESPN Stats & Info noted that Prescott was under pressure on 31-percent of plays, just 24th in the league. There’s no doubt that Prescott succeeds at a higher level when he gets a high level of support, which is a statement that could be said about any player in football. There should be absolutely no wavering on who the starting quarterback for Dallas is up until the moment that they either win the Super Bowl or are eliminated from the playoffs, it’s time to stop the controversy before controversy stops them. When you watch Prescott play though, you know that he’s more than Elliott and an offensive line; he’s just a really great football player.
Don’t ask me how I know – It’s just something that when you see it, you know it’s there.